How Does Oscar Wilde Show Imperialism

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Words: 604 |

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4 min read

Published: Mar 16, 2024

Words: 604|Page: 1|4 min read

Published: Mar 16, 2024

Oscar Wilde, a prominent figure in the late 19th-century literary scene, is known for his wit, satire, and criticism of societal norms. While his works are often celebrated for their humor and social commentary, they also offer a critical lens through which to examine imperialism. In this essay, we will delve into how Oscar Wilde portrays imperialism in his works, particularly in his novel "The Picture of Dorian Gray" and his play "The Importance of Being Earnest."

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One of the ways in which Wilde addresses imperialism is through the characters and settings in his works. In "The Picture of Dorian Gray," the character Lord Henry Wotton embodies the colonial mindset of the British upper class during the late 19th century. Lord Henry’s cynical worldview and belief in the superiority of the British Empire reflect the prevailing attitudes of the time. His influence on Dorian Gray, the protagonist, serves as a commentary on the corrupting influence of imperialism on the individual psyche.

Similarly, in "The Importance of Being Earnest," Wilde uses the character of Lady Bracknell to satirize the aristocratic class's sense of entitlement and superiority. Lady Bracknell’s dismissive attitude towards the lower classes and her obsession with social status can be seen as a critique of the imperialist mindset that permeated British society during Wilde’s lifetime.

Furthermore, Wilde’s portrayal of exoticism and orientalism in "The Picture of Dorian Gray" also sheds light on the colonial attitudes of the time. The character of Sibyl Vane, an actress who captivates Dorian Gray with her exotic allure, represents the objectification and fetishization of non-Western cultures that was common in imperialist societies. Through Sibyl Vane, Wilde exposes the dehumanizing effects of imperialism on both the colonizers and the colonized.

Another aspect of Wilde’s critique of imperialism is his use of symbolism and allegory. In "The Picture of Dorian Gray," the titular portrait serves as a metaphor for the hidden consequences of imperialism. The portrait, which ages and bears the scars of Dorian’s moral corruption while he remains outwardly unscathed, represents the hidden costs of empire-building and exploitation. Wilde’s use of the supernatural element in the novel adds a layer of complexity to his critique, suggesting that the consequences of imperialism are not limited to the material world but also extend to the spiritual and moral realms.

Additionally, the motif of duality and deception in "The Importance of Being Earnest" can be interpreted as a commentary on the hypocrisy and double standards inherent in imperialist societies. The characters’ adoption of false identities and their preoccupation with appearances reflect the superficiality and moral bankruptcy of the imperialist mindset. By exposing the absurdity of social conventions and the artificiality of the upper class, Wilde challenges the legitimacy of imperialist values and power structures.

Moreover, Wilde’s own life and experiences provide insight into his views on imperialism. As an Irish writer living in England, Wilde was keenly aware of the tensions and power dynamics between the British Empire and its colonies. His own experiences of discrimination and marginalization as an Irishman in England likely influenced his critique of imperialism in his works. By drawing attention to the injustices and inequalities perpetuated by imperialism, Wilde sought to challenge the status quo and advocate for social change.

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Oscar Wilde’s works offer a multifaceted critique of imperialism, addressing its psychological, social, and moral implications. Through his characters, settings, symbolism, and personal experiences, Wilde exposes the destructive effects of imperialism on individuals and societies. By engaging with Wilde’s works through a postcolonial lens, we can gain a deeper understanding of the complex and enduring legacy of imperialism in the late 19th century and its relevance to contemporary discussions of power, privilege, and identity.

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Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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How Does Oscar Wilde Show Imperialism. (2024, March 15). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 21, 2024, from
“How Does Oscar Wilde Show Imperialism.” GradesFixer, 15 Mar. 2024,
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